What a journey, and what an amazing experience. This is the 4th time I have ran the distance, but you don’t get used to it. It takes everything from you to run these sort of distances, and #RTTS2017 was the hardest I’ve ever done. Throughout this blog I’m going to talk first about my thoughts about the organisation, and event, before talking more personally about my experience throughout the event.
The event experience:
This event is a point to point race, starting in Goring following the ridgeway and finishing in Avebury, so we literally race to the stones. This is an iconic route where we run along the oldest path in history. Organisation was made easy as there are various options available in terms of where you stay, and shuttles available both ways. I could think of nothing worse than staying at the start and getting a shuttle back after the event. I stayed with some friends at the finish, and we parked a car at the finish line on the Friday evening ready to bring us home after the event.
This was a great opportunity to have a little look around and check out the stones.
There was no way you are going to really take in the surroundings after running for 100k, so we spent about an hour having a look around at the beautiful surroundings.
On the Friday evening we found a lovely pub called the Ivy Inn, with such friendly staff.
I sat in bullshit corner, and the pub was full of cute signs like “prices very depending on your attitude”. The food was lovely and they made me an extra large portion, with a combination not on the menu. There wasn’t much to choose in terms of traditional pre race food, but it certainly filled a hole.
Nicely fuelled the day before, this brings me on to the race experience, before talking about my journey. Registration was quick and simple. I was a little disappointed at this stage with the lack of anything for runners. I can only compare with the three action challenge events I have completed. I was told that this event would be well stocked and more food than I would need at aid stations. I am used to being able to get coffee, banana and other snacks at the start, but there was nothing, just a couple of stations where you could buy a coffee or bacon roll. Something for runners here would improve this experience.
There were so many toilets, which was great, I never saw a queue of any description the whole time I was there. What was random was I went into the toilet that Andrew was coming out of. Small world I thought, but then as I left the toilet Rohan was there waiting to go in. How random, but the running community really has made the world smaller.
Throughout the race the course was really well marked. There is absolutely no risk you would go the wrong way, and any places you could make a wrong turn there was a sign saying “not this way”. The volunteers at each aid station were wonderful and really did go above and beyond to help, it just had a friendly vibe and this makes a difference. The aid stations were well stocked with plenty of food and drink options. Again my only comparison is the action challenge events and there was less choice here, but it didn’t matter. In the later stages I would have preferred a proper sandwich rather than chocolate or peanut butter, so towards the end I did feel like there wasn’t anything I wanted. A sausage roll, some pizza or biscuits were what I was craving. However, I’m sure that many would have been more than happy with the selection.
The midway point was a little disappointing for me. I had a small bowl of pasta and there were no other options. There was plenty of cake, but I didn’t want sweet here, I wanted Savory. I was here after 5:45 hours so certainly not a front runner, but I was told the rest of the food would be at least half an hour. I’ve heard people had chicken fajitas and different options of pasta. This should have been out earlier. To balance this, the finish food was fantastic. Pizza, burger, sausage. Apparently there were jacket potatoes later but I did not see them, I’m unsure if they were there when I arrived or I missed, but it was a good set up.
The final thing to mention about the event before I get started is the photography. This is a great addition to the package, and I’ve got so many good photos which is really appreciated. An event top would have been nice, but the photos are great.
Race To The Stones:
I always get nervous before any event. There are a few things I like to do, first of all lay all my kit out and make sure I have everything. This is even more important for an event as long as this. I had pre and post event nutrition from Grub, Meatsnacks and SIS, and all my basic kit I would need.
Other things that help pre race nerves is getting to the start early, and being able to get to the toilet a couple of times before the start. It was great getting to the start to see so many from #ukrunchat there. We had a great mini tweetup, shame everyone wasn’t there, but different start times meant not everyone was there that early.
The beginning of the race didn’t go as planned for me. I was waiting for David to turn up so we could start together, as planned, but we barely made the start and ended up starting much further back than we would have liked.
There was still time for some selfies at the start though.
Then we were off. The enormity of what you are taking on hits you straight away. This isn’t a race (for most of us anyway) it’s a journey. Time becomes less relevant and you are just seeing how far you can push your body. It’s important to take these things slower at the start as there is a long way to go. However I found that we started to far back, and with a really narrow path the pace was much slower than we would have liked. David and I found the first mile slow, and the second getting slower, we were clearly in the wrong place, so we started taking opportunities to run past people as we could. Unfortunately these sections of overtaking were few and far between, and pace was erratic, which isn’t ideal at this stage. David then pulled away to try and get in a place where we could settle into the 8:30 min mile pace we would be happy with. To do this he ended up running sections at 7 min mile, something I wasn’t comfortable doing, so I pretty quickly started to slip away. Of course I could have kept up, but this would not have been sensible for me considering we were running 100k not 10k.
David started to pull away, and then we hit a hill. I’ve always considered it important to walk hills, this became increasingly difficult on a course which felt like we were constantly climbing. But still I slowed and walked the hill, which David must have carried on running. This was the last I saw of him, he would likely have always finished ahead of me, but I do think running with him would have motivated me to keep my pace, which later you will learn that I didn’t alone.
I reached CP1 pretty quickly, and was feeling good. What I liked is how detailed the check points were, each telling you how far you have come, how far to the next check point and how far until the finish. There were already some tough climbs, and I found that a lot of this first section was narrow, so I slowed a lot behind people. But the surroundings were beautiful. It wasn’t long until I was in the field of dreams.
All was going so well, but it really is a tough course. Very narrow in the early stages mean you are slowed by those around you, and it’s hilly. Many will be able to tackle these strongly, but I really am not very strong on hills. I usually make up this time on a good downhill. Unfortunately most of the downhills were too steep to run, or really hazardous underfoot. Before I got to CP2 I managed to clip a tree route on a down section. I hit the ground hard, grazing both knees and cutting my arm. I jarred my left knee which made it a little tougher for the rest of the journey, but luckily nothing too serious. I managed to jump back up pretty quickly, so no one saw me, and I just started to run again, albeit in a bit of pain.
The guys at CP2 were great, they noticed I had fallen and offered to help me. I was happy to keep going, but they really did care and this was evident at all the aid stations. I grabbed some sweets and a packet of crisps at CP2, and also had some coke. I ended up taking a cup of coke every checkpoint, which wasn’t always flat but didn’t bother me. There were also lots of gels and electrolyte tabs at each check point, so I always filled one flask with water and the other with electrolytes.
Usually when I have ran ultras I have a habit of starting strong and tiring as we go along. But it is usually a really quick 3/4 then a painful last 1/4. I don’t know what I should expect when I don’t train specifically for it, but I felt in good shape coming to #RTTS. My knee was bothering me a bit, especially on the view downhill sections. But I just didn’t really have the motivation to move faster. It’s strange, I’ve certainly felt more tired previously, but my legs were just heavy. Maybe this is a sign I need a bit of rest? I actually felt good myself, but my legs just weren’t going as fast as I would have liked them to, and this was early on, perhaps after the first 25k. Leading up to CP3 Daz caught me up, and we ran together for a bit. I had actually thought he was ahead of me, but I must have overtaken him in the first couple of miles whilst David zoomed off into the distance.
CP3 was great, there were a couple of young boys there keen to fill up your water bottles for you. I gave them mine and they clearly were happy to get down and fill up our bottles. Things like this make a difference in these types of events. I took on my fuel and was ready pretty quick, but I waited briefly for Daz so we could head back out together. He had given me a bit of a boost and helped me run at a more reasonable pace. Shortly after leaving CP3 we approached an incline. Again I’m not strong going up, and with my tired legs I just watched Daz pull away from me, and this was the last I saw of him.
By now the paths had widened and we had periods of some good ground underfoot. This was rare on this course, so I tried to take advantage of it when I had it. I found this to be a real mental battle. I’ve done 100k three times before, I knew I could do it and I knew I could do it faster. I’ve felt much worse previously, but I just couldn’t get there. I found myself day dreaming (in between updating my insta story), and my pace dropped significantly. I know my body was capable and it was my mind, because every now and then I gave myself a talking to and was able to get back to a pace I would expect from myself. This probably isn’t the best course for me with all the hills, and inability to go fast down the down sections. But there was more, it just wasn’t my day, so I embraced that early on, kept smiling and kept plodding.
It’s strange as I certainly had energy everywhere else, and was able to do a heel kick whilst approaching CP4. I actually did it twice as I shouted out and did a count down to the photographer. He then asked me to do it again, this picture is the second time. Looking back at the photos I think the first he was too zoomed in, obviously not expecting someone to do this 43.8k into a 100k event.
CP4 was my favourite, simple selection of food again, so I didn’t take much on. But they were playing music and it had a great atmosphere. On most stations there was watermelon and or orange, and I found myself taking a piece at most stops. As I was leaving the checkpoint Andrew was coming in, he didn’t see me so I went to say hello and told him I would see him at base camp.
The gap between CP4 and half way was the shortest. It still felt like it took forever. Everything was taking ages at this stage, a mile that might take you 7 minutes normally, would be 9 or 10 doing this sort of event. Mine were taking even longer, so I was going half the speed as normal. It’s really strange trying to explain, but you feel like you aren’t going anywhere. I remember looking at my watch and thinking, oh only about 5k, and 5 minutes later you look down again and it is still about 5k. Being on your feet for so long takes its toll on your body, it can get boring and with no concept of time or speed everything just drags. It doesn’t help that most of it was uphill, so I walked a lot and walking uphill is slow.
This is a great sign to see, half way. It’s funny, people ran past me taking this picture and I didn’t see anyone else around me taking pictures. I was enjoying the experience, and what’s a few seconds over the course of the entire day. Shortly after this we came to CP5, base camp.
It looked like a great potential for atmosphere here, and for those stopping overnight it would be great. They had a bar and lots going on in a corner, but half way through a race I wasn’t interested in checking it out. It was strange that they made us run through the finish line. I mentioned already my disappointment with the food situation. I had a bit of pasta as this was all that was available to me, I would have loved more pasta choice and fajitas. I stopped for about 15 minutes chatting to Mark who was staying with us driving through checkpoints to meet us. It’s always nice to see a friendly face and have someone who will look after you if you need it. His wife Claire was running with Debra, and he has planned certain stops to see us all.
As I left I noticed people just running past the checkpoint. I always like a bit of warm food, but in all honesty if I knew how limited it would be here I wouldn’t have bothered either. Andrew had text me to say he ran past without stopping at base camp so I didn’t get a chance to run with him.
I liked the sections running over fields and this was the most welcoming on your feet. We ran downhill on clay which was slippery because of the rain. There were stoney sections and gravel sections. I got so many little stones in my shoes that these caused bloody blisters on the soles of my feet. There were sections with rocks and trail sections. And most sections on the path were on really hard ground with uneven service and a camber no matter where you tried to run. All of this slowed me down, even when we weren’t going uphill, which wasn’t very often. The grass sections were often the flattest underfoot and hurt my knee the least.
I saw Rohan briefly in base camp which was really impressive considering he started 30 minutes after me. Not long after he caught up with me and we ran together briefly which was nice.
At CP6 they didn’t have Coke which was a shame. They had this strange substitute they were passing off for Coke (AKA Pepsi). As with all the check points all the crew were great.
You could always tell when you were approaching a check point as well, not only did they put a sign saying “1k to next pit stop” which seemed to take forever. But as you neared there were always lots of supporters there for loved ones, but gave a great cheer to all runners. I high fived lots of kids and I saw a kid fall over, so I threw him a pack of sweets I had to cheer him up. As you got really close there were always lots of cars parked which stood out in otherwise quite land. There were also locals out cheering and the whole route had pockets of people wishing you well.
CP7 was a big one with one of the longest gaps to the next aid station. One of the volunteers filled up my water bottles for me, and I left knowing there were some big climbs ahead of me. Shortly after CP7 we came across the next big milestone, 70k. This is usually when I would start to feel tired and crash, but during Race to the Stones I had been feeling that way for the last 50k.
At some point we crossed through a field with a sign that said “please limit noise and use of head torches in field and keep gates shut as there is a rare bread of bull”. This was not what you want to read when you have tired legs, as I crossed the field I thought what I would do if I got charged by a bull. I knew there was no chance I would be able to defend myself.
In the next field it was full of cows blocking the path. After taking this selfie the one watching me in the background started walking towards me, and I felt really vulnerable. I think I would have stood there forever but then some others came and walked around so I followed them. I felt like a bit of a wimp but I think that cow was after me… haha
There were so many climbs, they weren’t actually that steep but they went on forever. By now I was really struggling to get any sort of pace. People were walking past me quicker. Once your pace slows it is natural to keep around that pace, and I struggled to kick it up a gear. I kept getting a bit of momentum going, but it was often short lived. With the changing terrain and inclines I just couldn’t get going. But I kept moving forward and kept smiling.
Just after CP8 was the 80k sign, which is a great milestone. It would have been nice for there to have been an 84k sign to depict the completion of two marathons, but this will have to do. I was still smiling there, just as I was until the finish.
CP9 came and went and we were now on the final stretch. By this time people were constantly overtaking me. I had slowed so much here and this last section was the worst bit of all. I almost tripped another few times. We ran through a long path with hard uneven service, and lose rocks. This would have been particularly challenging in the dark, I’m just glad I still finished in the light. I took it really steady in this section as I didn’t want to risk injury.
Towards the end you could see the finish in the distance, with a sign that said 3k, but felt like a marathon itself. The worse bit about this course is that you run to the stones for a picture, and then turn back on yourself and run back for another 800 metres before making your way to the end. It’s not a great feeling running down a path, away from the finish and watching people ran back towards you. The heel kick sums up my race really. I had energy, I actually felt pretty good at the end, I just couldn’t move forward at any real pace.
The finish is actually 100.9k, not 100k. I also finished in the light still, but with the sun low in the sky and cloud cover the flash from the photographer made the photos appear darker. It was a massive achievement which I am really proud to have finished. I thought the whole experience at #RTTS was great and highly recommend it. Just be prepared for one tough challenge. So many great #ukrunchaters have completed this course, and I take my hat off to every one of them.
It really was a mental battle during Race To The Stones. At no point did I question whether I could finish, I knew I would, it was just getting there. I really struggled to get my legs moving at any speed, but I kept going. What I found most difficult is the fact that I felt ok, apart from my legs I genuinely felt ok. My knee was playing up, but not enough to have caused this. I had energy to jump and on the odd occasion I got my pace up, suggests that it was much more in my mind than anything else.
What should I expect. I haven’t trained for this event. My strava is full of 4.5 mile runs, and the only runs longer have been events. I do a lot of events but this isn’t the best training, this just keeps me ticking over. I’m not good at hills, and don’t do hill training. But does it really matter? I don’t do this for a particular time, or to win the race, I do it for the personal challenge and accomplishment. Of course I had a time in mind, and believe I can go a lot faster, but it wasn’t my day, but that’s ok. We all take on challenges for different reasons, and these endurance events are for me, because I can, and no other reason. I will do another next year, and I probably won’t train any more for it, because this isn’t why I’m training, this isn’t what motivates me, this is just a challenge for me, and I did it.
There were so many who took on this challenge, and I’m looking forward to seeing others experience. Check out Racecheck for more reviews.
I certainly think I managed to get my points for the day, and looking forward to enjoying my rewards from Fitness Rewards next week.